At the Women’s Learning Studio, we spend most of our work/learning time online. We communicate, cooperate, collaborate, and convene groups online. We scaffold individuals and groups to master net literacies, routines, and information technologies. This page focuses on tools we use and recommend for online learning and work.
We find the Seek-Sense-Share construct helpful to organize the digital tools we use most often. It is based on Harold Jarche’s path to Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM). Jarche has said that “PKM is an individual, disciplined process by which we make sense of information, observations and ideas.” (Jarche’s blog and podcast interview with him)
For us, learning and work tools are often one and the same. Each one featured in the chart is profiled below. Some tools have a free entry point. As they prove their utility to you, you may want to purchase a higher service level or donate to help the source thrive to improve the tool and create new ones.
Adobe Connect—we use this web conferencing solution because it scales up easily for us to connect with others by audio, video, and chat. Screens may be set up in advance to organize our meeting focus in stages, and invite collaboration as well as retain “rooms” for future meetings. Sessions can be recorded and made available for later referral. It is not inexpensive and there are worthy rivals such as GotoMeeting but it is a robust same-time communications and collaboration tool that works well for us.
Blogs—Writing to learn is not just a book title. The process enables us to capture and integrate ideas. Many say they can’t do it because writing takes time. We agree, it does. Reflecting on articles read and reports drafted also takes time. It is when we write that ideas jell or fall apart or suggest that more experience, research, or speculation is needed. Blogs invite social exchanges that affirm, sharpen, or turn our position upside-down. Blogs also add to the intellectual commons to enrich everyone. They are free to read and use to spark the growth of even better ideas and data for action. The WLS blog is one of the best things that we do consistently to document our learning and share our views.
Diigo—is a bookmarking tool for online articles, images, documents, etc. Tags help to find information once it is bookmarked. Groups can share and access online articles and information. For instance, the Studio has a searchable Diigo data base of 1,500+ resources on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), social learning, and blogging. We assembled these resources in less than two years and can access from any internet connected device. Doris believes that Diigo is magical and indispensable to organizing, curating, and retrieving ideas. Further, she wishes to thank the digital librarians who introduced Diigo to her in 2009.
Evernote–Evernote is defined as a project workspace on its home page for individual and enterprise-wide use. As recent individual adopters of Evernote, we have not exploited its enterprise features or its capacity to be the place for all artifacts relating to a topic, such as handwritten notes we make on the fly, pictures, etc. We use it to set up notebooks on projects and topics with links to original web sources. Evernote has earned its keep for us.
Facebook—Facebook is like a potluck with the opportunity to interact, share valuable stories & resources, build relationships, stay in touch, entertain and be entertained, and feel a connection to other people who might be miles and time zones away from us. Although neither of us is a big user, we use Facebook to stay closer to family and friends. It is becoming more important as a source of referrals to WLS, too.
Facetime—This is an added feature to allow Apple users to connect via iPhone, iPad, iPod, or Mac with voice and video. It’s easy to use and greatly personalizes long-distance interaction with live images.
Google Search—with its low skill entry threshold, and completion of queries for users, it enables quick learning on the go from any internet connected device for billions of users. And it’s free.
Hootsuite—is a powerful social media management dashboard to view, post and schedule social media content from the most often used websites, online accounts and RSS feeds. We use it to monitor our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter account activity and can participate and schedule posts from Hootsuite.
LinkedIn—is a social-professional networking site, which lets you share posts, ask and answer questions and participate in online discussion groups. Some use LinkedIn as a blog tool or assist to promoting their blog. Participating in online discussions through professional organizations and associations, getting notification of blogs on topics of interest, and networking with others is a wonderful way to engage in new learning and professional development. Lisa belongs to several LinkedIn groups that she regularly reads and participates in enriching her professional knowledge, abilities, and expertise.
MacMail—Lisa is a Mac user from way-back. She has 5 email accounts. Keeping them separate and organized is a challenge. Her MacMail email client allows her to create folders for each account, read emails from all her accounts in one place, and have distinct signatures and formats for her business, personal, and other accounts.
Microsoft Office—although Lisa identified the Office suite as a key tool, Doris uses it, too. From Word to Excel to PowerPoint—Microsoft Office is vital for building and communicating digital artifacts. We often use PowerPoint to create and export images and designs for other applications, too.
Pandora—Lisa likes to listen to music when she is in light-work mode but like Doris, needs quiet to concentrate deeply. Pandora allows Lisa to design her own internet music stations featuring favorite songs and artists. She uses the free version on all her internet-connected digital devices.
RSS feeds—Rapid Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. Setting up feeds allows us to bring information from thought leaders to a “feeder” website (such as Feedly, Bloglines, or Netvibes) of our choice. Lisa uses Hootsuite to monitor her RSS feeds. Doris had set up folders in her email inbox for the RSS feeds to populate with the latest posts but has decided to go with a feeder site instead. The volume was overloading her email account.
Skype—allows free 1-1 calls and very inexpensive video conferences for small groups. Upgrades allow more participants and more functionality for connecting to associates around the world. We seldom see each other in person and find its easy dial up from any internet connected device vital to our feeling connected and up-to-date. The text chat supplements our verbal exchange and documents our meeting.
Snagit—is a screen capture tool with editing capabilities and storage on your computer. The Snagit editor tool allows one to edit and share the result on the clipboard, in an email, Word documents, or with advanced photo-editing tools. It costs $49.95 (special pricing is available for educators, students, and government) and is updated by TechSmith as new features are added. We like it and use it a lot. In fact, we grabbed the Snagit logo in this paragraph with the tool.
Symbaloo—This free tool allows us to set up our home pages with visual tiles that link with one click to our most frequently visited places on the web. Each Symbaloo is customized to reflect the user’s needs. We use it to keep up with people and ideas that support the Studio’s operations and future. It is easy to set up and use and saves time.
Twitter—is a popular social networking and micro-blogging service to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters. But that doesn’t begin to express its value as an always-on connection tool to learn from others and to announce your own curated resources. And its hashtags make it an incredible archive.
Wikipedia—is a crowd-sourced encyclopedia of every topic imaginable. It is a free encyclopedia and reference source that is our frequent go-to for starting online research. The documentation in its entries takes us quickly to interesting sources which in turn link to others. Wikipedia works without advertising and needs donations to continue its groundbreaking resource role.
WordPress—offers blog and website designs with many plugins for user flexibility. The core elements are free to use and were designed by a community of volunteers that comprise the WordPress.org network. This website uses WordPress software. We use its social features in BuddyPress to build a learning network with member discussions and sharing forums. More WordPress plugins/templates, etc. are available all the time, both free and for purchase. WordPress.com hosts websites designed with WordPress.org templates.
YouTube—is a video website on which users can upload, view and share videos. Who doesn’t love YouTube for entertainment, accessing how-to videos, and other learning? We use it constantly in our work because we like hearing and seeing movement instead of reading static text. You can create your own channel and invite others to view your videos.
If you spend much time online, you may use most of these tools. We have found them very valuable.
We have also learned some terrific resources online who make it their mission to identify, review and organize tools on an ongoing basis.
Free Technology for Teachers—Richard Byrne is a former high school social studies teacher who started a teaching resource blog in 2007. It quickly grew into a go-to page for anyone interested in free teaching/learning resources that could be adapted for personal or classroom use. Byrne won the Edublogs Award five times and numerous other awards. Doris started following him in 2008. His values are quite similar to WLS values for DIY learning online: “I believe that when used correctly, technology has the power to improve student [learner] engagement and student [learner] achievement. I also believe that technology gives teachers [learners] the ability to form powerful, global, professional learning communities.” [our substitute words to make it apply to our interests in DIY learning]
Robin Good—According to his home page that lists most of the places and specialty areas that he engages with, his mission since 1998 is to “help independent web publishers communicate more effectively with new media.” Independent web publishers are people like you and us at WLS; people who have a passion for learning in a particular topical area and who wish to share what they know to inform others. Good is also like a bank chain in Florida; his distribution points for tips on content curation, crap detection, new tools assessments, and educational learning are on every other corner on the web. The best place to start viewing his vast treasure-lode of resources is to click on his name above. He is constantly contributing content on how to navigate and use the web to learn and share our learning with others.
Jane Hart—started the Centre for Learning and Performance online to help organizations “to modernise the L&D function – by moving beyond e-learning – in order to support learning more broadly and in more relevant ways in the workplace.” She offers full-service consulting and an annual 100 top learning tools list compiled from the votes of hundreds of learning development professionals worldwide. While her focus relates more to learning and development professionals in organizations, most of the 100 top tools list has value for individual learners and workers online, too. Jane hails from the United Kingdom and expresses herself in the Queen’s English.
Another Gift For You
In late 2013, we wished to identify the very best tools, apps and online sites available. Lyn Boyer led the search to review many applications herself and benefited from tool assessments offered by others. There are some jewels here including many tools that we would like to try in the future. For example, the image of Lisa and Doris below at the International Forum for Women in E-Learning was edited using AnyMaking Photo Editor, one of the many new sites Lyn found.
The list of outstanding tools grew to more than 200. Even better, many of them are free! You may access Lyn’s gift of tool resources here.